Set in Dushanbe, Tajikstan’s capital city, My Neighbourhood Sisters provides a snapshot of a close-knit community as it endeavours to adjust to changes induced by the country’s senseless civil war in the 1990s.
Turning the pages of Gulsifat Shakhidi’s novel is like looking... through a photo album, in which the narrator, Zulfiya has lovingly pasted images of both her own family and those of her neighbours. And behind each picture lies a poignant story. Shakhidi’s key protagonists are her close female friends; a group of proud, hardworking Tajik women who are challenged by both political and domestic unrest as they wrestle to maintain traditional family values. Their customs and local environment – the communal courtyard where neighbours gather to drink tea on a raised bed- may belong to Central Asia, but the hardships they endure are universal: infidelity, addiction, abuse, poverty, death. And it is this, so sensitively described by Shakhidi that will resonate with readers the world over.
Zulfiya’s ‘sisters’ include feisty professionals and housewives, grandmothers and new brides, and as the novel unfolds, we learn how they value being able to share their problems and support each other in times of trouble. They also rely heavily on the wisdom and experience of Zulfiya’s adopted uncle and fellow tenant, war veteran, Grigory Semenovich.
My Neighbourhood Sisters is a powerful and beautiful book filled with characters drawn from both the author’s imagination and her actual family, but in all of them, we will recognise aspects of ourselves and people from our own lives, and will perhaps be drawn to reflect on that close camaraderie between neighbours and that sense of community which in our current age, are fast disappearing.
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